Pop culture picks from 2017
What didn't suck in 2017? Well, actually, quite a bit. DGO spoke to opinionated, cool-hunting Durangoans about their pop culture prize finds. Each of our experts has a knowledgeable obsession with a subject - like books, movies, or TV – and they were willing to narrow down their long lists of 2017 loves to their top three favorites in a given media. Here's to brightsiding a cluster-f of a year by looking at the art that made us wanna keep on truckin.'
BOOKS“Fascism Today,” by Shane BurleyThere have been quite a few books coming out exploring the alt-right movement and the rise of right-wing populism with authoritarian tendencies. “Fascism Today” is one of the strongest books to examine and critique it while holding forth an empowering message about how to confront this movement on a holistic level ... What I admire is how well-researched it is in highlighting the various movements and how it is about building solidarity, community, and reaching out to people who are potential targets of these right-wing groups.
“Wielding Words Like Weapons,” by Ward ChurchillChurchill is a controversial scholar. This essay collection spans 1995-2005 and it acts as a good introduction to Native American struggles. He connects indigenous struggles globally and doesn't lose sight of the main thorns, like confronting vulture capitalism that destroys ecosystems and an unresponsive state that allows a peoples' land to be exploited and degraded.
“Hunter of Stories,” by Eduardo GaleanoEduardo Galeano wrote what he called poetic histories. This posthumous collection of vignettes touches on indigenous struggles and also historical events that have been marginalized. Galeano brings global indigenous culture to life through recording creation stories, uprisings, and revolutions led by indigenous peoples. He's like the Latin American Howard Zinn. Galeano was a beautiful writer, very poetic. His writing has always been spellbinding and you walk away from his books with an empowering message that connects you to the whole of humanity.
Kirbie Bennett, bookseller at Maria's Bookshop“The End We Start From,” by Megan HunterThis is a small novella about a woman who gave birth while the apocalypse is happening ... There's a poetic feel to it that focuses on the sensory parts – the touch, smell, feel – of an apocalypse. It's for people who are interested in the dystopian narrative without monsters and how a traumatic event impacts a new family.
“Afar,” by Leila del Duca“Afar” is the best graphic novel I've read in a long time. It's about a girl in an ancient setting who discovers she can astral-project into other people's bodies on other planets. She discovers she can have big influence over people's lives and not always in the best way ... It's also about her and her younger brother surviving in a brutal world after their parents disappear and don't come back.
“Strange the Dreamer,” by Laini TaylorIt starts as this typical fantasy setting where it is an orphan boy who doesn't think he is anything special [but] has greatness thrust upon him ... People are under an oppressive situation by gods who live in the sky, but it's a love story between the young man and one of the children of the gods – the goddess of nightmares ... It was a really whimsical, enjoyable read.
Becca Jordan, bookseller at Maria's Bookshop
MOVIES“Get Out” “Get Out” was written by the comedian Jordan Peele. It's his directorial debut. The film is an interplay of modern-day race relations where you can stand there and analyze it, but it is also a movie you can throw on and wash the dishes to ... It's comedic horror about a black protagonist in an interracial relationship who gets caught up in a psychological thriller storyline. It's funny and serious at the same time.
“The Square”(The Something Wild Fest) showed “The Square.” It is a stylized drama where a museum director is having an existential crisis. It was winner of the Palme d'Or (at Cannes) and a thought-provoking satirical story.
“Bladerunner 2049”I think “Bladerunner 2049” will age well and last ... You can get away with seeing it without seeing the first movie, but there are also mini stories from the first that will lead you deep into “2049” ... It is a dark, but purposefully optimistic movie, which is unusual for a noir film ... It is one of those films that will influence neo-noir directors for a long time to come.
Derrick Casto, founder of the Something Wild Film Festival
“The Shape of Water” “The Shape of Water” is a monster fairy tale. (Director Guillermo) Del Toro said seeing “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” as a kid inspired him. It was the movie that made him want to make movies, but he couldn't understand why the monster didn't get the girl. He made “The Shape of Water” because he wanted to make a movie where the monster gets the girl. It's beautifully shot. Quirky characters. Really heart-wrenching story.
“Lady Bird” “Lady Bird” is about a teenage girl who isn't Catholic but she's at a Catholic high school in Sacramento. Her name is Christine, but she decides she wants to be called Lady Bird. A lot of it is about her relationship with her mother who is played by Laurie Metcalf, who is great ... In the first scene you are completely sucked in because Lady Bird is in the car with her mother and they're arguing and Lady Bird opens the car door and throws herself out. It's charming, it's funny, and beautifully acted.
“Loving Vincent”It's an animated film about Vincent van Gogh, and they animated it out of 65,000 oil paintings, all in the style of van Gogh. It's really neat. Van Gogh has died and about a year after his death, a young man comes to the last place that he lived to give his final letter to someone.
Michele Malach, chair and associate professor of English at FLC
MUSIC“Boy in a Well,” The YawpersThe album's called “Boy in a Well,” and it's about a baby in World War I-era France that is abandoned in a well by his mother. It's super strange, especially for The Yawpers; they're usually about escaping small-town boredom. Musically, they're stripped down. It's vocals, drums, guitars, and they describe themselves as psychotic blues. They manage to be righteous and riotous and rich without being over the top.
“The Worst of Brett Newski,” by Brett NewskiThere's this guy named Brett Newski. He calls himself nomad/dork rock. He's in the same vein as Todd Snider or sort of the Violent Femmes. Super anti-commercial with songs like “F*ck You Spotify” and “Black Friday Totally Sucks.” ... He is calling out a lot of macho crap in America right now with the album “The Worst of Brett Newski.”
“Sidelong,” by Sarah Shook and The Disarmers“Sidelong” was re-released on Bloodshot Records in 2017 but Shook had released it earlier on a super-local, only-North-Carolina level. She's in the vein of Lydia Loveless or Lizzie Huffman. She's got this vibrato and there's an effortlessness to her voice that she brings to down-and-out, hard-living, hard-drinking songs.
Kynan Kelly, co-host of “The Velvet Rut” on KDUR
“Everything is Forgotten,” by Methyl Ethel It's dreamy psych-rock with a butt-rockin' beat. Spine-tingling. Every song is different.
“Orc,” by Thee Oh SeesThey're a unique, ferocious rock-punk band. This is an incarnation of John Dwyer of Castle Face Records. He has put out at least three or four albums this year under different names, a massive virtuoso. They make you sit up and listen.
“Blast Off Through the Wicker,” Art FeynmanIt's a seamless blend of world beats, electronic instruments, ethereal vocals. It's kinda haunting. If you're in a bad mood and need an attitude adjustment, put this one on and it will tilt you outta that.
Shoutouts: “Occult Architecture, Volume 1,” by Moon Duo, “Relatives in Descent,” by Protomartyr, “Hot Thoughts,” by Spoon, “World Eater,” by Blanck Mass
Nancy Elder, host of “A Vinyl Fetish” on KDURPODCASTS“Friends at the Table,” Season: “Twilight Mirage”This is an actual-play podcast where a group of friends play role-playing games live, and they're very good at it. This season they're playing “Twilight Mirage,” which is a utopia set in the future. It stops feeling like a game a lot of the time and starts feeling like collaborative storytelling ... It focuses on being an inclusive show with the LGBTQ community in particular.
“Up First” “Up First” is a 10- to 12-minute daily news podcast through NPR that gets released at about 6 a.m. every morning. I listen to it while I brush my teeth. It's a nice way to get the top three or four stories of the day.
“Songonauts”The basic premise is that a down-and-out band finds the Essence of Music in a beat-up drum machine and they go on adventures to save the SongVerse. It's very Saturday-morning-cartoon and silly... At the end of the day, it's about saving the world with the power of music and that's refreshing.
Dane Fogdall, materials handler at the Durango Public Library
“Waking up with Sam Harris”Sam Harris is known in the new atheism and the secular humanism worlds and he's a very thoughtful, well-rounded, intellectual person ... The thing I like about that show is he talks about politics quite a bit, and is anti-Trump, but he invites people on his show that are Trump supporters or conservatives who may not totally support Trump but can give a conservative perspective. I like that you can get a conservative opinion in a thoughtful conversation that doesn't devolve into nonsense and shouting.
“Revisionist History,” season twoHaving read everything Malcolm Gladwell has written in book form, it's that same pop social science but in a nugget-podcast size. It melds research with an accessible writing style. He tackles complex issues in a distinct, unexpected viewpoint.
“Heavyweight” Johnathan Goldstein, known from appearances on “This American Life,” finds people who have dynamic moments from their past that are influential and are either mysterious or a weight needing to be resolved. For example, there's one where a man lent field recording CDs to Moby as he was up-and-coming and Moby took them and the man never heard about it again until Moby was sampling them on hit records. It was framed as “I want my CDs back,” but it was more a conversation of, “I want recognition.”
David Holub, editor of DGO Magazine
TV“Mr. Robot,” season threeI feel like it's the same premise as “Fight Club,” but way smarter and pulls at the heartstrings. There's a superhero, tortured figure and it is really smart writing. It has nothing to do with robots. You get to see the inside of a schizophrenic mind in a brilliant way.
“Rick and Morty,” season threeI love it. It's a friend-requisite. I don't know if I can be friends with you if you don't like this show. It's hilarious. It's super smart. It has multiple levels of plot connectivity and (is) super deep for an animated show.
“Stranger Things,” season twoI'm in love with Winona Ryder. I love watching her. It takes me back to the feeling I had when I first saw “E.T.” It's that nostalgia of kids with adventure and real-life fears and challenges. It's a show about figuring it out.
Hattie Miller, actress, choreographer, co-founder of Imaginario Circus
“Game of Thrones,” season sevenI love “Game of Thrones.” I really like that it's the women that are taking charge in it. It has gone from women being objects to women being leaders. I've enjoyed that trajectory and the dragons taking lead in the story as well.
“Stranger Things,” season twoI love “Stranger Things.” It's such smart writing. I like the edition of Paul Reiser this season, and I read that the Duffer brothers had approached him about the role because they had written the character as the “Paul Reiser Character.” I think both seasons were equally good and totally different trajectories with great soundtracks, too.
“Late Night with Seth Meyers,” 2017 season With the world being as insane as it is right now, you need to inject a little bit of comedy in your life on a daily basis. I think the person who is doing it the best is Seth Meyers. His commentary is straight-on, funny, and smart. He has really good writers that are on-point with looking at the world and making it so we can laugh and see the absurdity in such a way that it is clever and inclusive to women and minorities.
Sandy Irwin, director of the Durango Public Library
VIDEO GAMES“Night in the Woods” You assume the role of a woman who is returning to her hometown after dropping out of college. There is some sort of supernatural, bizarre, cultish thing that is going on that you have to uncover with the help of your old friends ... It's a modern take on a coming-of-age story involving people who leave home to go to college and realize it doesn't fit right, but then come home and realize home isn't what it used to be, that friends aren't what they used to be. It asks a lot of difficult questions but with self-awareness as a video game.
“Ruiner” This is a cyberpunk, top-down shooter (that) has amazing artwork and is an homage to classics like “Ghost in the Shell” and “Bladerunner,” and it has an amazing soundtrack. The world is so dense and beautifully designed and executed. It's a violent game, but very satisfying to play and has a lot of good replay value.
“Cuphead” This game is wonderful top to bottom. It is a run-and-gun and a side-scroller. The story is nonsensical and hilarious. The artwork is hand-done and inspired by the rubber hose animation style of 1930s cartoons, like “Felix the Cat” and classic Disney. On top of that, they had a jazz musician do the entire soundtrack inspired by music of that era. It's phenomenal.
Brett Massé, DGO video games columnistInterviews edited and condensed for clarity.Patty Templeton